WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
Mayor Backs Unions' Role
Tuesday, March 01, 2011
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, unlike Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and other electeds, has stood up for public worker unions and has supports collective bargining as critical to getting labor's buy-in to the changes management may need to make.
Bloomberg's olive branch to labor comes while he is asking unions for unprecedented concessions on pension and seniority rules he said are essential to keeping the city workforce fiscally viable and effective.
"It's a different approach than you see in some of the Midwestern states," Bloomberg said, "and one of the things we would love to negotiate is how you downsize a workforce. "
He is pushing to move the city's non-uniform workforce's retirement age to 65, and he wants teachers to be layed off based on how well they perform in the class room, not on seniority.
Richie Stier, who edits The Chief, which tracks City and New York State labor issues, said Bloomberg has yet to develop the independent criteria needed to judge teacher performance.
"You don't have an objective way to measure teachers," Stier said, "and that's something that the governor has mentioned, but the mayor wants to proceed to change the law without having that objective standard."
Bloomberg has said that there are already groups of teachers who can be identified as under-performing by criteria like high absenteeism or their continued presence in a pool of teachers that no principals had wanted to hire.
The mayor's first big test will come in Albany where he has to win approval for the city to regain the right to include pension issues in his negotiations with city unions as well as his version of tenure reform.
The city lost the prerogative to negotiate workers' pensions after the its fiscal meltdown in the 1970s.
The United Federation of Teacher's contract expired in the Fall of 2009. Bloomberg has to re-negotiate their renewal and all of the other city's major labor contracts. It's going to be those contracts and their fringe benefits that will really determine how much flexibility mayors that come after him are going to have as they try to face challenges as yet unknown.
Even before the Wisconsin flare-up over public unions, Bloomberg had started to shift from the aggressive stance he struck in his State of the City Address. For some time, he was describing a $12,000 annual payment paid to retired police and firefighters as an over-the-top "Christmas bonus." He has since dropped that reference.
In reality, it was what's called the supplemental variable annuity payment. It was the result of negotiations between the police and fire unions that went back decades. Under the city union deal, the city was given greater flexibility in how it invested pension funds as well as the chance to actually withdraw cash out to helo with the city's budget.